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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17281


Mr FARMER (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer please advise the House of the findings of the Australia Industry Group's report entitled How competitive is Australia? Are there any factors that might prevent the Australian economy from becoming even more competitive?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for his question. It is not often that you come across a report like the one which was released by the Australian Industry Group today. The report was called How competitive is Australia? and it cites the findings of IMD International, which surveyed countries around the world. The report says this:

... Australia's international competitiveness as measured by IMD International for countries with populations greater than 20 million has remained at 3rd out of 30 countries from 1999 to 2002, and rose to 2nd behind the United States in 2003.

The Australian Industry Group went on to say this:

... Australia retains a record as being amongst the strongest economies, with the Federal Government's Budget being one of the few in surplus, a low inflationary environment, a stable political system and a AAA-rated Australian dollar.

The Labor Party had Australia's credit downgraded not once but twice. One of the things that has happened over the last three or four years under the economic management of the coalition is that we have restored Australia's international credit rating to AAA. That was one of the achievements of this coalition government. Reports like this are an indication of how far we have come in recent years, but there are no grounds for stopping. Each one of those 28 countries which are rated below Australia in competitiveness is working hard to improve their competitiveness. If we were to stop, we would gradually shift down that table. You have to run faster, year after year, just to maintain the same position, let alone to improve it. So it is absolutely essential that, just as the reforms of yesteryear have taken us to the competitive position where we now stand, reforms today will take us to the competitive position we want to be in in three or four years time.

I am asked if there are any factors that might prevent the Australian economy becoming more competitive, and I have thought about this a lot. The biggest brake on Australia becoming more competitive is the Australian Labor Party. The biggest brake on Australia's economic future is the Australian Labor Party. Let me go through this. The Australian Labor Party opposed the budget measures to put the budget back in surplus. The Australian Labor Party opposed the repayment of Labor debt.

Government members—Shame!


Mr COSTELLO —The Australian Labor Party opposed tax reform. The Australian Labor Party opposes privatisation. The Australian Labor Party opposes labour market reform.

Government members—Shame!


Mr COSTELLO —The Australian Labor Party opposes unfair dismissal reform. The Australian Labor Party opposes tariff reform. The Australian Labor Party opposes international tax reform.

Government members—Shame!


Mr COSTELLO —The Australian Labor Party opposes reform of the welfare system. The Australian Labor Party opposes reform of the PBS, and it opposes higher education reform. It is the most oppositionist political movement in modern history.

I have noticed an attempt recently to say that it is all the fault of the member for Fraser; he is not hitting the mark as shadow Treasurer. In defence of the member for Fraser, he is not the worst shadow Treasurer the Labor Party has ever put up. Its first shadow Treasurer was Gareth Evans, the then member for Holt. Then we had a shadow Treasurer who was WTG—worse than Gareth—the member for Hotham, the now Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, under standing order 145, the Treasurer is straying a long way from the answer to the question. It might be deemed to be irrelevant.


The SPEAKER —The Treasurer was asked a question, part of which was to comment on factors that were making competitiveness more difficult.


Mr COSTELLO —Mr Speaker, I was asked about the brakes on economic reform, and I am going through them. They were the member for Holt, followed by the member for Hotham. The point is this: it is not the Labor Party's spokesman who is the problem; it is the Labor Party policy. Whilst the Labor Party policy is complete opportunism, it does not matter who the spokesman is. Whilst the Labor Party follow the Creanite economic policy, then it does not matter whether the new spokesman is the member for Werriwa or the member for Griffith or whether they want to bring back the member for Perth or even the member for Brand. It does not matter who it is. Until Labor can find somebody who is prepared to stand up for a decent economic principle, Labor will continue to be the biggest block to economic reform, the biggest block to international competitiveness, the biggest block to the creation of new jobs and the biggest block to the creation of better living standards for Australians.